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First Airborne Task Force Shoulder Patch

509th Parachute Infantry Battalion Shoulder Patch
(above picture)
509th PIB Patch

509th PIB WW II
Medal of Honor Recipient

Cpl Paul B Huff

550th Parachute Infantry Battalion Crest
(above picture)
550th PIB Crest

551st Parachute Infantry Battalion Crest
(above picture)
551st PIB Crest

Operation Dragoon
CLICK above to Order
Attached Units - The U.S. Airborne during World War II
The First Airborne Task Force

peration Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France, was conceived in controversy. Churchill didn't see a need to actually conduct and invasion since thousands of Germans troops were stationed there in anticipation of an invasion. Instead Churchill advocated a major Allied thrust into the Balkans. However, Roosevelt's focus was Germany itself. Consequently, President Roosevelt prevailed and the invasion was set for August 15, 1944.

MG Robert T Frederick Lieutenant General Lucian K Truscott, VI Corps Commander, was selected to lead the main thrust of the attack. It was LG Truscott who had led VI Corps out of the Anzio "meat grinder" and into Rome. Also attached to General Truscott's corps was the recently activated 1st Airborne Task Force (1st ABTF). This division-sized unit was activated on July 11, 1944 under the command of MG Robert T Frederick. (picture right) The 1st ABTF consisted of the British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade, the U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) with the attached 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team (PRCT), the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion, the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion.

The 509th PIB had the most combat experience of all the U.S. airborne units. It fought in French Northwest Africa and saw extensive action in Italy including storming ashore with the Fifth Army at Anzio. The 517th PRCT, commanded by Colonel Rupert D Graves, was the largest unit assigned to 1st ABTF. It included the 517th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the 460th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion and the 596th Airborne Engineer Battalion.

The final plan of the attack ordered the 1st ABTF to jump into the Le Muy area just before dawn to seize strategic high-ground positions in order to repel German forces attempting to overrun the assault areas.

In the predawn hours of August 15th the pathfinders were misdropped. However, the skill of the transport pilots enabled 85% of all the paratroopers to jump directly on their assigned DZ. By that evening Operation Dragoon was considered a huge success.

After the success of Operation Dragoon the 1st ABTF was assigned to liberate Cannes and Nice, then to secure strategic montaintop positions in the Maritime Alps along the Franco-Italian border.

The 1st Airborne Task Force was disbanded after Thanskgiving in November, 1944 and its units moved ot Soissones, France where the warmth of Southern France would soon be replaced by the brutal winter of the Ardennes.

509th Parachute Infantry Battalion

he 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion went through several numerical designations from it's initial activation on October 5, 1941 when it was first designated the 504th Parachute Battalion. It was redesignated the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry on February 24, 1942. The final redesignation came on December 10, 1943 when it was designated the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. This was the designation that it held throughout World War II until its disbandment on March 1, 1945.

Lt Colonel William Yarborough - assumed command of 509th after Operation Torch Operation Torch was the first joint military action undertaken by the Allies in World War II. This was the springboard for the Churchillian idea of attacking the soft underbelly of Europe before attempting a cross-channel attack from England. The main objective was to seize French Northwest Africa. For political reasons it would be an American led operation under the newly promoted Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The airborne segment of the operation entailed flying 1500 miles from England to seize two French airfields near Oran. Major William P Yarborough (picture left) was selected to plan the logistics of Colonel Edson D Raff the airborne phase and the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion was chosen to execute it under the command of Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Edson Duncan Raff. Lt Col Raff (picture right) later was assigned to command the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. The airborne phase of the operation was finally executed on November 8,1942 with disappointing results. As the planes approached the dropzone the French signaled their willingness to cooperate. However, not all of the French units were informed and there were last minute changes and decisions that led to confusion. Although Raff's group made the jump, controversy surrounded the operation. Irregardless, the 509th was undaunted and after a second jump a week later conducted combined operations with the French against the German Afrika Corps in Tunisia.

In addition to being the first airborne unit to participate in a combat jump, the 509th saw extensive action in Italy. The battalion was nearly destroyed when it was misdropped behind German lines at Salerno but survived to fight as mountain troops and stormed ashore with the Fifth Army at Anzio. After Anzio the battalion jumped into Southern France as part of the First Airborne Task Force where they again fought as mountain infantry.

When the order to deactivate the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion was published by XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters on March 1, 1945 there were only a handful of survivors who remained from it initial inception. These battle-hardened troopers were absorbed by the 82nd Airborne Division for the remainder of the war.

550th Infantry Airborne Battalion

n July 1, 1941 the 550th Infantry Airborne Battalion was activated at Fort Kobbe on the Pacific side of the Canal Zone in Panama. It was initially organized to be neither parachute nor glider trained but rather an air-landing infantry unit based on the German model that was employed during the air assault on Crete. It was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harry M. Melasky and stationed in Panama because of concerns over an increasing German influence in Central America. However, by mid-1943 the German influence had diminished and the 550th was redeployed to the United States for extensive glider training.

The 550th Infantry Battalion now redesignated the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion was committed to Operation Dragoon as part of the 1st Airborne Task Force along with the 517th Regimental Combat Team, Company C 550th Airborne Infantry circa 1941 under the command of Captain Sachs - CLICK to Enlarge - the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion. Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France, would be the 550th first combat mission. D-Day for the operation would be August 15, 1944. After the initial success of the operation the battalion continued fighting in the Maritime Alps as mountain troops.They continued fighting until November, 1944 when the the 1st Airborne Task force was disbanded and the battalion was moved to Aldbourne, England.

(picture above right: Men of the 550th Airborne Infantry Battalion, Company C, October 1, 1941, under the command of Captain Sachs. (^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^) )
During the Battle of the Bulge the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion was attached to the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division. In late February, 1945 the 550th Glider Infantry Battalion and the 193rd Glider Infantry Regiment were consolidated into the 3rd Battalion of the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division.

551th Parachute Infantry Battalion

he 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was activated on November 1, 1942 in Panama. It replaced the 501st Parachute Battalion which had been absorbed in the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Ever since France fell to the Germans there was a concern that the French island of Martinique might assist Lt Col Wood G Joerg German U-boats in the Atlantic. Plans were drawn up for the 551st to make a surprise attack on the island and seize it. However, the French commander surrendered and the plan was cancelled. In August, 1943 the 551st was deployed to Camp Mackall, North Carolina where it remained until, March, 1944. The battalion sailed for Italy and engaged in intensive precombat maneuvers at an airborne training center in Sicily. Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France, was the battalion's first combat assignment as part of the 1st Airborne Task Force along with the 517th Regimental Combat Team, the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion and the 550th Infantry Airborne Battalion.

In Operation Dragoon, the 551st was in continual action from the August 15, 1944 until November 17 1944. Like the 550th, the 551st also fought in the Maritime Alps as mountain troops. During this time the 551st along with the 509th and the 550th fought a successful holding action against the Austrian 5th Hocchgebirgesjager Division protecting the right flank of the U.S. 7th Army. The battalion was relived by the U.S. 100th Infantry on November 17, 1944. They would barely have enough time to restock their supplies before being thrust into the middle of the largest battle of World War II.

The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion entered the Battle of the Bulge on December 21, 1944 and was initially assigned to the 30th Infantry Division reinforcing the 30th positions in and around Francorchamps, Ster and Stavelot, Belgium. On Christmas Day the battalion was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division near Rahier, Belgium in support of the 508th PIR. On General Gavin's orders the battalion executed a reconnaissance in force to capture prisoners and determine the German units in contact. After considerable close-in combat including repulsing two German couterattacks the 551st withdrew to its original line of departure. The mission was accomplished.

From January 1st onward intense German artillery fire slowly decimated the battalion as it advanced through the Ardennes Forest in order to consolidate positions west of the Salm River. Pvt Milo Huempfner receives the DSC - (Courtesy: Gordon Stewart: WW II Airborne Demonstration Team) During an artillery barrage on January 7, 1945, the youthful commander, Lt Col Wood C Joerg, (picture above right) was also killed as the battalion took the town of Rochelinval, Belgium. He had been the battalion's Commanding Officer since its activation in Panama. By January 9th the battalion strength was less than a company as they moved to Juslenville, Belgium. Finally, in March, 1945 the XVIII Airborne Corps reorganized and the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion was consolidated into the 82nd Airborne Division.

(picture above right: General March present Pvt Milo Huempfner with the Distinguished Service Cross in June, 1945 for his action during the Battle of the Bulge. (^^ Click Picture to Enlarge ^^) )

( Source: " Paratroopers" by Gerard M. Devlin)

( Another Source: " The 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion" by Les Hughes)

551st Parachute Infantry Battalion - Pictures  Photos 551st PIB  

R E L A T E D   B O O K S

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Gavin, James M.  On to Berlin : Battles of an Airborne Commander, 1943-1946 ISBN: 0670525170
Giard, Régis & Frédéric Blais Helmets of the ETO: A Historical & Technical Guide Histoire & Collections (Jan 2008), 216 p. ISBN: 2352500621
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Yardley, Doyle R  Home Was Never Like This. Yardley Enterprises, Aug, 2002, 312 p. ISBN:0971743908

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